UW-Milwaukee has evolved from modest beginnings to become one of the country’s leading research universities.  In the past ten years, the state and UW System significantly expanded the physical footprint of the campus by adding a $54M new building to the School of Freshwater Sciences, purchasing the 900,000 sq. foot Columbia St. Mary’s hospital, and constructing and opening the new Zilber School of Public Health.  During the same timeframe, the UWM Real Estate Foundation acquired 80 acres adjacent to the Medical College of Wisconsin to create Innovation Campus and erecting a 24,000 sq. foot UWM Innovation Accelerator building.

During the planning for these developments, enrollments were increasing from low to mid-20,000s in the early 2000s to a peak of 30,500 in 2010, tuition was increasing at about 7% annually, and the campus and state budgets were generally positive. Since 2010, annual enrollments have declined on average 833 students, with 26,000 students on campus today.  Tuition is frozen at 2012 levels, the last two biennial budgets included record cuts, and reserves have dwindled precipitously.  The campus has undertaken significant cost cutting measures – cutting $31M from $372M in unrestricted funding in 2015-16 alone – while maintaining our commitments.

It is probable that our enrollment will decline to about 24-25,000.  The state’s high school population is predicted to shrink by 7% by 2023, and a large portion of the student population we seek to recruit faces significant challenges in pursuing higher education (e.g., the MPS graduation rate declined 25% in the last five years; our region has the country’s lowest credit scores for 18-25 year olds).

Purpose of Visioning

It is clear that the actions and tactics that led to the current state of UWM will not be the formula for success in the future. Many factors have changed, including funding, enrollment, technology, and the rapid evolution of higher education.  In light of these environmental factors, we need to adapt to be successful. It is time to look forward and, in doing so, re-evaluate how we achieve our mission, structure and overall direction.


To best position UW-Milwaukee for a strong, successful future, we must develop a clear vision for the campus that reflects current and projected future budget and enrollments, opportunities and risks, and other environmental factors.  The work will build on our UW-Milwaukee Strategic Plan 2020 document, as well as academic and operational planning.  We will engage faculty, staff, students, alumni and key community constituents to reflect a shared vision.  Our five strategic directions will remain: Top-tier Research, Student Success, Community Engagement, Campus Climate and Culture, and UW-Milwaukee’s Brand, Visibility and Image.  Our process will refine our previous work into a vision for a campus with greater impact, clear direction, and key priorities for our future.

A central question will be: what are the unique, compelling aspects of an urban R1 university that will propel a strong, sustainable future?  Anticipating steady-state enrollments in the 24-25,000 range, we need to evolve and frame key enrollment drivers, research areas, and themes that the campus and community will embrace.  The objective is to establish our long-term path for education, research, and community engagement to support southeast Wisconsin.  We will identify existing and promising areas to strengthen our impact while recognizing our distinguishing features as an urban R1.

In this process, we will fortify the brand and identity of UWM and bring even greater community and regional support for our campus.  Leadership and our campus’ communication—internal and external—regarding these efforts will be central to our success.

Committee Structure

For our campus efforts, we are forming a Chancellor’s Strategic Visioning Work Group, led by the Chancellor and including our governance group leaders and members (University Committee, Academic Staff Council, University Staff Council, Student Association, and Academic Planning and Budget Committee), Provost, Vice Chancellor of Finance and Administrative Affairs, Distinguished Professor representative, Senior Student Affairs Officer, Vice Provost for Research, Dean’s representative, and leaders and representatives from other key campus constituencies.  This group will represent and engage faculty, staff, students and the community to create the shared future vision. The group members will be expected to regularly provide updates to their respective governance body, school, college, division, or unit, and seek feedback from the same.

For our external work, former Regent President and retired Southeast Wisconsin business community leader Mike Falbo will assist UWM.  He will provide input gathered via participation in campus and community meetings and serve as a sounding board as we examine campus structure, budget work and community engagement.  Former Regent President Falbo will also be an important conduit between UWM, President Cross, and the Regents.

Process, Timeframe and Expected Outcomes

Drawing upon UWM Strategic Plan 2020 resources, the Chancellor’s Strategic Visioning Work Group will re-evaluate our vision, mission, structure and overall direction with the goal of creating a statement for UWM’s future. To shape the statement, the Work Group will seek feedback from internal and external groups, including governance, faculty, staff, students, alumni, and community members.

A draft of the strategic visioning process will be shared in late January, 2017, with completion expected no later than March, 2017.

The Chancellor’s Strategic Visioning Work Group will create a shared, forward-thinking statement for our future. With significant campus and community buy-in, and coordination with UWS and the Board of Regents, UW-Milwaukee will have a clear course for sustained research, enrollments and student success, and engagement for educational and economic impact for Southeast Wisconsin and beyond.